February 22, 2020

Red Hot Poker, Monterey
Red Hot Poker (Kniphofia), Coast of Monterey Bay, winter 1993 (watercolor and Prismacolor colored pencils on watercolor paper)

Last weekend I visited family in Belmont Shore. If you ever find yourself on 2nd Street on the Shore you will be just two short blocks from the ocean. Most days you can smell the sea air and on foggy days you can hear the fog horns. There’s a pier, and what looks like miles of calm water. This is what’s called break water as berms and other devices have been layered into the sand to interrupt the surf—calming it down. There is a wide flat sandy beach, and I’m not really sure who hangs out there anymore. It used to be filled with families and people with dogs. Now there are quite a few homeless people wandering that area. My dad never considered this a proper ocean area as there were no big waves to body surf. He always loved the big thundering surf of Huntington Beach. Now that was a proper ocean front!

I bring up all this briny talk because as I walked around there, which is my usual when visiting, I go past many teeny tiny houses close to the water. For this visit I saw quite a number of red hot poker plants blooming in the teeny tiny yards. In fact, I walked past a house on Sunday that had a riot of SoCal color—dense fuchsia bougainvillea with lavender colored lantana popping out and all of that surrounded by green grass-like clumps of foliage with glowing crimson flower spikes all set about like many red hot torches. It was quite a site! And what a time not to have my paints with me. I have already written about my first memories of the red hot colors of the Belmont Shore plants I have just described. Add the shockingly spiky bright orange and purple colors of bird of paradise, and countless shades of alstroemeria and pelargonium (geraniums), and you might only begin to imagine such color. In fact, seeing this profusion reminded me of my post last week and my mention of the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden. Bougainvillea, lantana and bird of paradise appear to be tropical plants, and would not be featured in the SLO Garden. But red hot poker, alstroemeria and pelargoniums COULD be found in the drought tolerant Mediterranean inspired garden. Looking at my Sunset Western Garden book (2007) again it seems that Kniphofia originated in South Africa, but has been hybridized and there are numerous varieties and colors that can be cultivated in a garden. I’ve never put any in my garden as it can look “ratty” (descriptive adjective from the Western Garden book) in my mild climate and it is my understanding that it usually needs to be pruned in the fall. I’ve seen it go quite rogue in a garden or two and just never wanted to go to the trouble in any of my milder climate gardens.

If you know CA coastal geography or you have already read he caption, this red hot poker landscape was not done near a SoCal sea, but rather overlooking Monterey Bay—300 miles to the north. I did this one in 1993, before I had discovered the wonders of sitting on a sheet of rolled out bubble wrap. But thank goodness I had brought my travel size Winsor Newton watercolor set and tiny pots for mixing colors for that visit. Back then I usually sat on my sweatshirt (sweatshirts and heavy coats are often required when visiting Monterey Bay). I seem to remember trying to brush off the dirt and sand, hoping I wouldn’t need to wear my now dirty sweatshirt anywhere out in public. (Sometimes I turned my sweatshirt inside out, but that didn’t always work out either…) This watercolor was done on a pathway that leads to the Monterey Bay Aquarium—a pretty cool place to see what our Pacific Ocean kelp forests look like. It’s also a great place to see sea otters, brown pelicans and other underwater wonders. I so remember sitting in the dirt, painting this one. But I wasn’t alone, as there were several large CA ground squirrels popping up and down, and in and out of the spiky “poker” foliage around me. Not really sure why I didn’t try to put one or two of them in here. I’ve always been such a science geek. At that time I was working in Menlo Park at Addison-Wesley Publishing Company. I was a book editor and we were creating a science textbook for the southeast (e.g. Virginia, Georgia etc). And the project was called Destinations in Science. In thinking about that experience and one CA girl’s beloved Pacific coastline I am reminded that back then you were never to put a surfer, sea otter, gray whale or the Golden Gate Bridge in a book that was bound for any textbook market other than CA. Such images were forbidden for the east (New York), as well as the southern market (Texas). Of course I thought it interesting that an Addison-Wesley math textbook (bound for the south) had the state flag of Texas in it. And what would the CA textbook buying educators think of the Texas flag in one of their math books? Uh huh.

Trying to think how to end this week’s art and story and I’m hard pressed to come up with a satisfactory end. You see, the minute I wrap this up and send it along, I am no longer sitting on that path, looking through the red hot pokers and out to sea. I think I might look up the Monterey Bay Aquarium website and linger awhile at the jellies cam. If you too look up the Monterey Bay Aquarium online, you will notice you can  have sleepover there. My brother’s family has done that a couple times. California Crazy huh?

Final CA note:

As I reread today’s blog one last time I was taken by the fact that I so randomly mentioned the homeless in Belmont Shore. And I felt like I should say something more. There are many homeless people in CA right now. It’s so heart breaking to see a state that has so much with so many people who have so little. I don’t believe there is one cause for these numbers, but I will say that a contributing factor here is the cost of living. It’s very expensive to live here and many are one paycheck away from homelessness. Affordable housing is quite a problem for many, if not all, of our CA cities. Mental illness and drug addiction also add numbers to the streets. And once again I don’t really know how to end this, except to say that I do what I can. When the staff at the school I work at hear of a family living in their car we look to help them find a homeless shelter, provide diapers, a winter coat or food. And all the LAUSD schools provide daily breakfast and lunch to those K-12 students who need it. I guess in the end we just have to keep keeping on, right? This is not the end to this story, but only bye for now.

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